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Assembly weighs options for Benchlands property

The city should put about 25 percent of a property known as the Benchlands out for bid. That was the recommendation heard at a work session Thursday between the Sitka Assembly and an ad-hoc committee formed to draft options for the land.

The Benchlands is an area of land up above Halibut Point Road, off Kramer Avenue. The area recommended for bid by the committee includes four parcels.

Download the entire packet from Thursday night, which includes the committee’s options in detail. (PDF, 6mb)

The ad hoc committee recommended a points system. Developers would score higher based on their plan for the land, the price they offered to buy it, and the timeline for development.

Assembly member Phyllis Hackett said that option didn’t address the issue of affordable housing, which was the point of forming the ad-hoc committee in the first place.

“I like the idea of a points system,” Hackett said. “I see how that could be beneficial. But I also can see a scenario that might be far-fetched where they would get so many points because their price was high that it would wash the affordable housing. And the priority is supposed to be affordable housing.

Assembly member Thor Christianson said there are ways to address that concern within the point system, by attaching points to the number of lots in a developer’s plan.

“The more lots the developer plans for, the higher they’re going to score, and the more lots there are, the cheaper the lots are going to be, because they’ll be smaller and the more they’ll impact the market,” Christianson said. “Ten lots impact the market more than five do.”

The city is trying to recoup its investment in the Benchlands. It paid $3 million for the property back in 2007, and has invested more since then to develop it.

Assembly member Mim McConnell says the city should also talk about the possibility of giving some of the land away, as an investment in affordable housing.

“When it comes to affordable housing, I don’t think the city should be in the money making business,” McConnell said. “I think we should be in the business of helping to create workforce housing, and elder housing, and doing that any way we possibly can.”

The Assembly’s deliberations continued, but because it was a work session, they made no decision.

Garry White, speaking on behalf of the ad-hoc committee, said when the Assembly DOES make a decision, it should feel comfortable experimenting a little bit. White said it’s important to remember that the option favored by the committee is only for a quarter of the Benchlands. If it works, it can expand to the rest of the property. And if not?

“Perhaps it’s a terrible idea and it didn’t work out as we planned,” White said. “You’ve got 75 percent of the land to do Option 5 or whatever on it. But the main goal is, we’re developing the Benchlands.”

Separately, the Assembly heard a proposal from city planner Wells Williams to put the Old City Shops on the market. Williams proposes a two-step process. In step one, developers would present conceptual ideas to the Assembly. Once a winner is selected, the Assembly would negotiate the specifics and that developer would bring back more concrete plans. Williams says doing it that way allows a wider range of interest – from traditional private development to low-cost housing providers.

That item could appear on Tuesday’s Assembly agenda.

 

 

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